'The Key to Do Something' or 'The Key to Doing Something'? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 18 March 2024)

What Should We Use after The Key to? A Bare-Infinitive or a Gerund?

When you want to use the word key to express the idea that something is crucial for reaching a goal, you should use the pattern the key to doing something. We use the gerund form (-ing) of a verb instead of the infinitive because the to in the key to is a preposition. When a verb follows a preposition, it should be in the gerund form. The gerund functions as a noun in this case, indicating the action or process:

✅ The key to achieving success is persistence. (gerund: achieving)
The key to achieve success is persistence.

✅ The key to improving your health is regular exercise and a balanced diet. (gerund: improving)
❌ The key to improve your health is regular exercise and a balanced diet.

What is the key to learning a new language? (gerund: learning)
What is the key to learn a new language?

The key to enjoying life lies in appreciating the small moments and finding joy in everyday experiences. (gerund: enjoying)
❌ The key to enjoy life lies in appreciating the small moments and finding joy in everyday experiences.

The entry for the noun key (sense 2) in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

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Examples from the Media

Wellbeing is the key to keeping employees motivated. —The Guardian (2014)

As an outsider, she said she learned with others, "how to persuade people that looking out for our most vulnerable is a really good idea for society — that's the key to opening the hearts and minds of others for a better society." Toronto Star (2018)

Higher density is the key to solving Sydney's housing crisis. The Sydney Morning Herald (2024)

The key to letting boys actually be boys? See them as the emotional beings they are. The Washington Post (2019)

Real-World Examples of Misuse

1. The phrase the key to is followed by a noun or a gerund (a verb form ending in -ing that functions as a noun). The base form of the verb win needs to be changed to the gerund form winning to fit grammatically after the preposition to: the key to winning.
2. To achieve parallel structure and enhance conciseness, the word playing can be omitted.
(Image Source: St. Paul's Convent School, Primary Section)
(Also by the Same School: 1/2/3/4)

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